These aren’t the Republicans you’re looking for

I respect E.D., but he’s completely off base here:

And yes, even though it may cause healthcare reform to die in its tracks, I still think that the right person won in Massachusetts.  I also think that there are ways the Democrats could scale back reform and get some conservatives on board with a much more modest, more market-friendly reform that still helps a lot of people who need help. […]

In the end, I’m not too down over healthcare reform bottoming out.  I don’t think it’s over, for one thing.  And maybe something better, something more fiscally sound that still covers most Americans will emerge from all of this – perhaps even something with bipartisan support. Maybe a better, less cynical Republican party will begin to take root as well.  Maybe, just maybe, people will take another look at Wyden/Bennett….

There is almost nothing in recent political history to suggest that the Republican Party is anything but hostile to health care reform.  And if not hostile, then indifferent.  Republicans had nearly four years of uninterrupted dominance with which to tackle health care reform, and neither President Bush nor congressional Republicans proposed anything. What’s more, the bulk of Republican legislators are comically ignorant of health care policy, and those that aren’t are far more concerned with their political futures than they are with reforming the health care system (see: Olympia Snow, Chuck Grassley).

By suggesting that Democrats “scale back” reform, E.D. is effectively blaming Democrats for Republican intransigence, which is completely absurd.  Last year, Democrats offered Republicans the chance to make their mark on health care reform.  Yes, it would happen within a liberal framework, but Democrats were more than willing to compromise and scale down if it meant GOP support.  Republicans were repeatedly offered the opportunity to alter the bill to their liking; if Republicans wanted market-friendly reforms, they could have gotten them.  If Republicans wanted something modest and limited, Democrats probably would have delivered.  But they didn’t.  Despite that, Democrats produced and passed a bill that is moderate and bipartisan in everything but name.  The current bill is dramatically more conservative than Bill Clinton’s attempt to reform health care, and owes far more to Mitt Romney than it does to say, Harry Truman.

The simple fact  is that there isn’t a single shred of evidence to support the idea that congressional Republicans have any interest in passing health care reform, even conservative, incremental health care reform.  They are opposed to health care reform, they have always been opposed to health care reform, and if this bill fails, they will still be opposed to health care reform.  If this bill fails, there won’t be another and — if previous history is any indication — it will be fifteen years before another president attempts to tackle health care reform, and in the meantime, the system will move closer to complete failure.

I don’t think I can be emphatic enough about this: the idea that there are Republican votes for a conservative health care bill (it’s already pretty moderate) is a complete fiction.  The truth is that Republicans have made a conscious choice to categorically oppose each and every one of President Obama’s priorities, under the theory that obstruction is the surest way back to political success. Judging from their success so far, I think it’s fair to say that isn’t going to change anytime soon.  To pretend otherwise, as E.D. does, is to be willfully ignorant of political reality.

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45 thoughts on “These aren’t the Republicans you’re looking for

  1. I think it has more to do with the structure of the parties’ bases. The GOP ‘s base is predominantly middle- and upper-middle class. The Dems dominate among the bottom third of the country in terms of income. There’s no real need for Republicans to address this issue because their base doesn’t feel the issue in the same way the Democrats do. Additionally, Republicans are stuck with a donor base of extremely libertarian folks that essentially want little to no government involvement in anything. No, Republicans would have no reason to do this, aside from out of the kindness of their hearts.


  2. If the Dems wanted healthcare reform, they could have passed anytime this last year — there was no way to stop them. Bush did pass Medicare Prespcripion Reform. The Dems never considered tort reform, allowing insurance sales across state lines, individual tax breaks on policies, health savings plans or changes in licensure laws. The Dems kept it partisan and closed, and then they started bribing for favors, then started eating one another — they had the votes to pass anything they wanted to pass, as quickly as they wanted to pass it.


    • There are two serious exceptions to your argument, one political, one policy.

      The political : Which Republican(s) would actually vote for a Democrat-driven health bill with those provisions? Is the GOP looking to alter the bill so it includes the policies and reforms they’d like to see, or are they hoping to simply block Dem lead reform so they can hand Obama and congressional Dems a big loss (NB: they don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but what party doesn’t think they’ll have a better chance at passing their favored policies by taking control from the other party?). Ex ante, perhaps I would have agreed with the strategy (hey, why not give it a shot)? But ex post, it’s really hard to argue that the GOP couldn’t simply say “no” and have a good shot at killing reform. Are any of those policies (or taken together) worth more than defeating (or having a better chance at defeating) the Democrats? I doubt it. And conservative Dems had their own ideas and pet policies they wanted to see (or didn’t). If Dems could have passed whatever they wanted to already, why didn’t they? Were they distracted?

      The policy: Tort reform isn’t really a cost savings windfall (but, again, if it saves some money, why not give it a shot?). Sales across state lines are even worse at controlling costs. It’s another good talking point, but tends to ignore the fact that a part of cost savings come from volume based buying power. If you’re selling to a market where you don’t have much volume (like, say, a state you’re insurance firm isn’t based in) you’re not going to reduce costs. I think HSAs and tax breaks are the best of the list of policies, but I don’t really see these incentives overcoming the political calculus I mentioned above.


  3. The Republican Party had a wafer thin majority in the House of Representatives and were as bedeviled as the current governing party by the dynamic created by the Senate’s asinine rules. The notion that they had ‘four years of uninterrupted dominance’ cannot be taken seriously. Half a dozen Republican members of the House would have been enough to derail any legislation, and on an issue like this you can certainly find half a dozen with idiosyncratic preferences on policy, or who carry water for sectoral interests who would lose, or who have a social ideology that diverges significantly from the median of the Republican caucus (Christopher Shays, et al).


  4. A bit of counter-factual speculation: a Republican administration proposes a revision similar to that suggested by Milton Friedman ten years ago: comprehensive and universal medical insurance for expenses incurred over a high deductible, cash-on-the-barrelhead below the deductible. Set the schedule of household deductibles high enough so that the public expenditure as a share of personal income remains fixed (it is currently around 7-8% thereof). The response of the Democratic caucus would be what?

    The Republican Party has severe deficiencies. It is not not NOT obligated to embrace the Democratic Party’s tar babies. Complaints of the nature of this post are petulant, plain and simple.


    • “It is not not NOT obligated to embrace the Democratic Party’s tar babies. Complaints of the nature of this post are petulant, plain and simple.”

      And if they did, they’d be severely guilty of political malpractice. It’s comical for me to read some of the complaints I see, here and other places, about the Republicans’ lack of proactivity or positive agenda wrt health care or anything else for that matter. It would be even funnier if I thought the people who write such things were joking.

      The set of things which appear to be possible at any given time is substantially dependent on the resources that are available. This should be obvious, but like other obvious things, it needs to be stated anyway. It’s ridiculous to think that the Republicans could advance a nuanced, bipartisan agenda with 40 Senators and 200 Congressmen. If the Democrats insist on pushing an agenda with horrific consequences to the American people, all we can do is take our case to the American people. We did, and they agree with us.


      • A) What are these “horrific” consequences? A significant reduction in the deficit? A slow down in long-term health care costs? Near-universal coverage?

        B) There is little if any evidence to suggest that the American people “agree” with you. A fair amount of polling on HCR shows a plurality of Americans supporting a bill, and of those opposed, a significant number are opposed because it doesn’t go far enough. What’s more, the elections we’ve seen where Republicans have won are notable for being intensely focused on local issues, and ones in which the Republican in question was running against a comically bad candidate. To say that the American people — the ones who elected a Democratic president and delivered strong Democratic majorities in Congress — are now against the agenda they voted for is to take a small bit of evidence and prove far too much.

        C) I agree, it is ridiculous to expect a small minority to advance a nuanced bipartisan agenda. But if we agree that we shouldn’t expect the minority to cooperate, then we should also agree that we shouldn’t invest the minority with the power to completely derail the process of governing. Which is what we’re seeing. It’s incredibly disingenuous of conservatives to argue that the American people have “rejected the Democrats agenda” when conservatives have patently refused to let the majority party govern.


        • “There is little if any evidence to suggest that the American people “agree” with you. A fair amount of polling on HCR shows a plurality of Americans supporting a bill, and of those opposed, a significant number are opposed because it doesn’t go far enough.”

          Denial is not just a river in Egypt.


        • “But if we agree that we shouldn’t expect the minority to cooperate, then we should also agree that we shouldn’t invest the minority with the power to completely derail the process of governing.”

          It’s not the legislative minority which had the veto power here. It was legislative minority plus a large majority of the American people who vetoed this bill (if in fact it stays dead), a large part of the latter who were actively mobilized against it.


          • What large majority of the American people vetoed the bill? The 100,000 voters in Massachusetts that formed Brown’s margin? The mostly old, mostly white voters in Virginia that support McConnell? There isn’t a single shred of evidence to support any of your assertions. However, there is plenty to suggest — the 59-seat Senate majority, huge House majority, the presidency — that the American people wanted health care reform to happen. Three idiosyncratic elections doesn’t change that.

            Of course, I’m not going to convince you, so I don’t know why I’m wasting my time here.


            • “What large majority of the American people vetoed the bill?”

              Oh Gawd, if you’re that ignorant, why are you bothering to comment on public affairs? The various iterations of the health care bill are horrifically unpopular. The evidence for this includes, but is not limited to, public opinion tracking of the bill, Obama’s approval rating, the generic Congressional ballot, Senator Reid’s approval rating and prospects for reelection. And the off-year/special elections. The trend has been unmistakable since around May or so, health care took the top spot on the political agenda. My guess is, at some level you already know this, but either you don’t care or think that it’s not real if you close your eyes to it. Denial is not just a river in Egypt.


  5. The GOP passed a law in 2003 creating HSAs. Check your facts.

    The GOP proposed more reform legislation in 2006. It went no where, which is too bad.

    To say nothing at all was done by the GOP is ignorant. Could/should they have done more? Yes.


  6. Would you like to hear the best part?

    In two years, you’ll be able to write this about Democrats.

    “They had a 60 vote majority in the Senate, a sizable majority in the House, and a Progressive President in the White House who ran on Hope and Change and still they DID NOTHING!!!! *NOTHING*!!!!!!!”

    Your conclusion could be something to the effect of how much Democrats hate The People.

    Once that realization sinks in… I shudder to think what will happen.


  7. “By suggesting that Democrats “scale back” reform, E.D. is effectively blaming Democrats for Republican intransigence, which is completely absurd.”

    Well, Democrats DESERVE some blame. For their own intransigence. We do know that it is, in fact, possible to keep 100 percent of your party in line, How do we know this? Because Republicans have consistently done so. Democrats have consistently failed.

    We had a party in power. Completely and utterly in power. They have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, they had the House, and the had the presidency. They had all of that for months and months. And what’s the bill that they passed? There isn’t one.

    I am no fan of the GOP. But to look at this situatoin and blame Michael Steele seems pretty strange. You say that the Dems reached across the aisle time and time again to Republicans and kept offering this and offering that. And that didn’t entice anyone in the GOP to cross the aisle. Well… it hardly convinced any conservative Democrats to rethink it either.

    This points to a lot of problems. From time to time, when Yglesias isn’t complaining about the filibister, he will chide democratic leadership for not being tougher with members. I think he’s right on that score. When someone doesn’t play ball, you take away their chairmanships. You take them off important committees. You hammer them and hammer them and hammer them. The Democrats have failed to do that in many cases.

    That’s not Mitch McConnel’s fault.

    This goes back to Jamelle’s post about Blue Dog Democrats. They are actually voting the way their constituents want. In this case, sure, there is a lot of political brinksmanship going on. But one reason some conservatives are voting against this HCR bill is because… they think it’s a really crappy bill. YOu might disagree with that. If so, your party needs to win enough elections to overcome a filibuster. And when they do… they need to, you know, pass a bill.


    • Well, Democrats DESERVE some blame. For their own intransigence. We do know that it is, in fact, possible to keep 100 percent of your party in line, How do we know this? Because Republicans have consistently done so. Democrats have consistently failed.

      This is nonsense. The GOP can maintain strict party discipline because it is far more ideologically uniform than the Democratic Party. By definition (as a large majority), the Democrats are ideologically diverse, with Ben Nelson on one end and Russ Feingold at the other. Add into that the perverse incentives for gaming legislation and obstructing, and you have a situation where there isn’t incentive for individual Democrats (especially ones not that jazzed on health care) to stay unified. By contrast, Republicans know that if they prevent legislation from passage, the majority party will be blamed, and they’ll profit electorally.

      Also, what you — and everyone else here — seems to be saying is that it is perfectly OK to have a political system in which large majorities and public support aren’t sufficient to pass *any* legislation. Which, you know, is insane.


      • you seem to be confusing “your” legislation with “any” legislation. I’ve pointed out repeatedly that the Democrats never scheduled a vote on GOP proposals, even if only to call their bluff.

        That’s like saying that because someone is refusing to eat Chinese food, they’re refusing to eat at all. It’s ridiculous, it’s bad logic, and it’s grounded entirely in animus fueled opinion rather than fact.


      • I think you have confounded fractiousness which is the result of sectoral interests with fractiousness which is the result of ideological differences. Left of center, you have role distinctions (say, between the liberal establishment and ethnic particularists or Mattachines) and some ideological dispute over war and diplomacy and national-patriotic sentiment; beyond that, you all fairly uniform. There is a small corps of Catholics and evangelicals not on board with certain excursions, but the vociferous amongst them are commonly capons and readily suborned.

        Right-of-center you actually have a multiplicity of strands which co-operate in opposition to the liberal agenda but whose concerns have quite different emphases. These strands are commonly antagonistic.


      • Also, what you — and everyone else here — seems to be saying is that it is perfectly OK to have a political system in which large majorities and public support aren’t sufficient to pass *any* legislation. Which, you know, is insane.

        The system does have a bias toward stagnation. The problem is not the political opposition but the institutional architecture and norms. Abolishing the filibuster would help, as would various other measures.


    • They are actually voting the way their constituents want.

      Are they? I’d say they aren’t. They are corporate whores. What excuses a Dan Lipinski? Melissa Bean? Jim Cooper? Or “Helicopter” Harold Ford, Jr.(when he was in the House)? They are all in liberal districts. Yet are some of the worst reactionary Democrats.


  8. While I generally agree with your substantive points Jamelle I don’t think that we can really heap much blame at the doorstep of Republicans for their behavior. Yes they have behaved pretty much as you’ve described and yes the Dems did do their utmost to try and get republicans on board but the fact of the matter is that it was ultimately a Democratic failure to police their moderates that caused this mess. While the republicans did successfully parlay the Democrats longing for bipartisan cover into a huge delay that has contributed significantly to the problems they face today it is ultimately the Democrats fault that they allowed themselves to be played for saps. Obama in particular has performed astonishingly poorly on this issue. He’s been publicly dithering ever since the election.

    And of course the kicker is that the ball remains in the Democrats hands. It is fully within their capacity to pass the Senate bill through the house and make it law without a single law being interpreted creatively or the Senate touching it again. Hell it’s also well within their power to draft and pass a reconciliation amendment to the HCR bill that fixes some of its’ problems and get the Senate to pass that bill on a 51 vote and then pass the amendment AND the HCR bill together. The speaker has that power.

    Now some have asserted that passing HCR would cost the Democrats dearly in the next election. Setting aside for a moment whether that assertion is correct (I don’t think it’s that simple) the question is very basic. Were the Democrats elected to worry about preserving their majorities in the House and Senate or were they elected to improve the state of the country? If the Democrats enacted this HCR bill they would be able to campaign on the actual particulars of the bill instead of the imaginary things Republicans have been making up about it. Even if they get hammered in the next election the Republicans would never be able to get enough seats to actually repeal it. So if Democrats think that the fundamental point of HCR is sound and good for their country it is incumbent upon them to put it into law even if it’ll cause them short term electoral trouble (again I think the reality would be more nuanced. Americans love love ~LOVE~ winners).

    Obama campaigned on being a leader and on bipartisanship and hope. Well the bipartisanship has been tried and it’s not worked out. Maybe he should try working on the other two parts of his platform. Especially the leadership part. If the bill is worth doing then it should be done and damn the polls. If the bill isn’t worth doing then what the hell were they thinking for the last year?


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  10. “it is perfectly OK to have a political system in which large majorities and public support aren’t sufficient to pass *any* legislation.”

    No. That’s not what anyone is saying. What we are saying is that a huge majority was, in fact, sufficient to pass the legislation. But the Democrats didn’t pass any. Again, that’s not Michael Steele’s fault.

    You say that it’s impossible to maintain party discipline because of ideological diversity. That’s nonsense. I went to a few of those Wedensday meetings at Grover Norquists way back when. People from Cato sitting next to people from Eagle Forum sitting next to Bill Kristol. This is diversity that is reflected in current legislators. Yet… not a single Republican jumped ship. You say it’s impossible to maintain the discipline, yet ignore the fact that one half of the two parties in DC actually manages to maintain discipline. Remember: Bill Kristol and George W. Bush are not pals.

    Also, the whole idea of gaming the system works both ways. Yes, people from your party can hold out for goodies. Ben Nelson did it. But you can also entice people from the other side of the aisle. Unless, of course, people on that side of the aisle are disciplined and yours are not. In which case you have Democrats spending huge amounts of political capital to keep their own people in line.

    Again, not Michael Steele’s fault.

    we can talk all we want about the dyspfunction of the GOP. In fact, I think that game is quite fun. But they could be as intransigent as they want and HCR still would have passed of Dems would have passed it.

    They didn’t.


    • I agree with Sam, here.

      I hate to keep harping on this but the two biggest pieces of counter evidence to what Jamelle’s saying here is the Judd Gregg problem.

      Senator Judd Gregg – who btw voted for comprehensive immigration reform which is a fairly recent testimony to a lack of Republican consistently – doesn’t stand to gain in any of the ways Democratic critics assert as motives for Republican intransigence. The fact there are a handful of current republicans who have crossed party lines, maintain views in contrast to their party, and have put their name to reforms that their own party opposes, who simply don’t fit the bill of “partisan obstructionists.” If you can’t get a retiring Republican Senator from New England to cross the aisle, maybe the problem is on your side, not theirs.


  11. Does anyone find this scenario plausible?

    HCR goes down in flames. Progressives, feeling that they’ve had it with making concessions to the Clinton wing, harden their position on Single Payer. They decide to embark on a “Medicare For All” strategy in which they spend the next ten years watching healthcare costs shooting up at 8-14% (or whatever the numbers are) and printing up bumper stickers which read, “Do you like your healthcare plan better than your grandmothers?”

    BTW, I don’t ask this an advocate or an opponent- – I’m just curious if any of you (on either side of the argument) think there is a better than average chance of this happening.


      • “The GOP needs to work harder on a positive agenda so as not to be too closely associated with the status quo.”
        Nice to find something to agree with you on Koz. The GOP definitly needs a positive agenda.


  12. The Washington Post has an interesting guide to votes cast thus far in the current Senate:

    It does seem like a lot of the votes break down roughly 60/40 by party lines; some of which you really wouldn’t expect to. The Service Member Home Ownership Act went 60/39 on party lines?

    And the few that went bipartisan seem like really easy sells, such as the bill “to protect middle class families from tax increases.” Only one vote against that.


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